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Human Behavior

Constant: What is it really? Why the Interrogator Should Care

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Lately I’ve noticed that interviewers may be misdiagnosing their subjects because of the way they are identifying their subject’s “constant” or baseline of behavior.  Every successful kinesic interviewer knows that they will never be able to accurately identify issues that create significant stress for their subjects nor will they be able to isolate deceptive responses without accurately diagnosing the changes caused by deception if they haven’t established the subject’s baseline.  There is good news and bad news about establishing your subject’s “constant” of behavior.

Not intending to be a pessimist, I’d like to start with the bad news. A person’s overall behavior at any time is in reality composed of at least three factors.  Foremost is their dominant personality.  Just being flamboyant, aggressive, passive, egotistical or the demonstration of other such qualities is not the constant. It’s their well entrenched personality.   The second element is their life’s historical perspective – the prism through which the view the world around them. In some cases those major events have caused emotional or even mental disorders.  These behaviors initiated through triggering events and causes fixed action responses from you subject.  More about those elements in future article.  These are not the behaviors which I need to include in my “constant” assessment and can lead to misinterpretation of credibility.

The third element is your subject’s communication style.  Are they generally verbal or quiet?  How would you define the voice quality in terms of rate, pitch and volume? Do they have a lot of facial expression or do they have minimal amount of facial responses. Are their hand, arm and leg behaviors subdued or would you describe them as being quite gesticulative?  This is the good news.  You don’t have to conduct an in-depth analysis. Just consciously make these observations and make a mental note. When you address critical issues do you spot the significant change from that baseline?  If you are going to get signs of deception, they will typically be consistently located within these changes.

You don’t need to diagnose your subject’s baseline in depth but a quick calibration of your observations to the subject’s current “zero” level.  Over analysis can cause misdiagnosis and stress and deception paralysis.

Evasion vs. Deception

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

A common belief held by many investigative interviewers and most people in general is that when a person is being deceptive that their statements are literally saturated with deceit. Results of numerous studies of deception behavior does not support this conclusion.  In reality, people engage in evasion far more often than they do pure deception.

My colleague Dr. Martha Davis and I studied the video taped interrogations from 36 felony cases investigated by the New York Police Department.  Our study focused on identifying the verbal and nonverbal cues to deception by subjects in situations where there was significant jeopardy for the subject if their evasion and deception attempts failed.  One of the general observations we made that was very consistent with the results of previously published studies of deception was that people are far more evasive than deceptive.

Sustaining pure deception can be a difficult process for most people.  This is not to say that lying is “hard” but one’s ability to first create a deception and then sustain it under scrutiny is what is difficult.  Let’s face it.  The “deception” liar must remember the truth that they are attempting to hide and their first deception presentation.  Next when their previous lie is challenged they must create a new lie that dovetails with the first deception and most often it must be created on the fly.  At the same time they must leave the new lie open ended enough in case they are required to lie some more.  This a daunting task for anyone.

The most common technique the majority people including suspects use to avoid the truth is to practice evasion. Simple evasion does not require a great deal of creative thinking on the part of your deceitful suspect.  Evasion also does not require that one have a particularly acute memory just tell as much of the truth as possible.  Also consider the observations and reactions of the person who is the target of the lie because the lie teller is doing that very same thing.  Pure deception is more likely to raise the suspicions of the lie target that evasion.

The conclusion we can make is that subjects are far more likely to be evasive than deceptive.  The conclusion of our research drew an interesting parallel observation.  Investigative interviewers are more likely to diagnose the stress behaviors of evasion as markers of deception.  Deception behaviors generated by a subject are in fact rare.